There are few foods I enjoy as much as a crispy, well-seasoned skin-on chicken thigh.
When I was a kid, my mother regularly made fried chicken with a flour mixture she would have shipped to us in Maryland from her home town of Louisville, Kentucky. I *loved* her fried chicken- every greasy, juicy bite of it. But as I got older, and began to develop some digestive health issues, one of the first things I had to limit then eventually cut out almost entirely was fried foods. And then about a year back I also adopted a gluten free lifestyle after a rigorous elimination diet. And through all this, the food I was perhaps most sad to lose was my mother’s fried chicken. For me, it was like a bite of nostalgia and the crispy sweetness of the skin reminded me of summers spent playing outside with my Kentucky and Ohio cousins.
There are a plethora of delicious crispy chicken recipes out there, most notably for me is Nom Nom Paleo’s “Cracklin’ Chicken” which I’ve indulged in a handful of times. But frying the chicken was still proving to be problematic for my gut, not to mention very messy for my kitchen! So when my sister pulled me aside last weekend to impart the recipe I’m about to share with you all, I was very excited to try it out. My sister is a very health conscious actress who fuels her body with a diet of primarily meat and vegetables (follow her here!). I love it when she cooks for me and cooking is an activity we generally do during the rare times when we are in the same state and able to hang out.
“Listen,” she said, looking around the room as if she was about share some top secret information. “I have to tell you about cooking chicken thighs. I found the BEST way to cook them.”
“Oh, tell me!” I replied, pulling out my phone to take notes.
“Okay, this is all you do. Put the chicken thighs on foil in the oven at like 350 degrees for 90 minutes. Skin on, bone in- it MUST be skin on, bone in. And season it with a little salt and pepper on the skin. NO oil.”
No oil? I thought to myself. Seeing the perplexed look on my face, she leaned in towards me and said “trust me.”
“So only salt and pepper?”
“On the skin, yes. You can put whatever you want on the underside.”
I vowed to try it the next evening and she nodded knowingly and went back to chopping the squash for our dinner.
I have to admit I was hesitant about her advice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I admit that I do tend to rely on oil in my cooking. I do use oils that are as minimally processed as I can get them and in small amounts, but my food generally sees some EVOO, coconut oil or avocado oil at some point in the cooking process. And also 90 minutes seemed like an incredibly long time to cook chicken thighs at 350 degrees. Wouldn’t it dry out? But I trust my sister’s palate.
And let me tell you- the chicken I made that night was some of the most delicious, tender, crispy chicken I have ever eaten. So when I decided to make it again for lunch this afternoon, I documented my process so I can share it with you here. Additionally to the chicken, I made a cauliflower rice that I will describe as well so you can re-create the whole meal if you desire.
So without further ado, here is how it’s done.
To Make the Chicken
First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I do that first so that my chicken can go in as soon as it’s prepped. You want to start with chicken thighs that are bone-in and have the skin on. This is important because the bone releases flavors and juices into the meat as you cook it while the skin gives the finished product that crunch and also serves to flavor the meat as it cooks. You want to season it with a pinch of coarse sea salt and pepper- I eyeball the amount.
The meaty part of the chicken can be seasoned with any combination of seasonings you chose. For Christmas, my sister gave me some gourmet seasoning blends so I used some of that. But generally, my chicken gets a combination of rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper.
Once the oven is preheated, stick the chicken in and set a timer for 90 minutes. Then forget about it. Literally, you do not have to touch this chicken again until the timer goes off. This is a good time to start prepping any side you want with it- in this case it’s cauliflower rice!
To Make the Cauliflower Rice
Start heating up a pan on your stove with around 1 TBS of coconut oil. We are going to cook all the ingredients here before finishing it in the oven.
Chop up about half a head of cauliflower and drop it in a food processor. In order to make the rice, you need to pulse the processor- just enough to make the cauliflower resemble actual rice. I’ve never done this in anything other than a food processor but I imagine you could also use a blender if needed. Or even just dice it finely, though the texture may not be the same. Just be sure not to over-do it in the processor or the cauliflower will lose the texture we are looking for.
Then you can get creative and chop up any veggies you want to add to your rice. Today, I chose sliced onions, diced sweet potato and carrot, chopped collard greens, and garlic. You can use any vegetables you have laying around. As a general rule, onions give food a lot of flavor so I like to incorporate them as much as I can. However, onions can be problematic for some people (I have a slight issue with eating more than a small amount of them) so I decided to keep the pieces large so I could eat around it while still getting the flavor. You can do the same with garlic if you are doing a low FODMAP diet.
You want to cook the onions (if you are using onions) first and add the garlic (if you are using garlic) last. The reason is that we want to make sure the onions are cooked through and translucent and they will release their juices as they cook which will flavor the other food. I always add garlic last because garlic is finicky and can burn easily which is NOT pleasant to eat.
Once the onions are done, add in your carrots and sweet potato. They will take a good bit of time to cook so I prefer to get them started before the collard greens and garlic which I know takes less time. But regardless of the order you cook the veggies in, make sure they are tender to the touch with a fork when you’re done.
Once it is all cooked through, add in the cauliflower. Give it a good stir to mix it up and add about 1/2 tsp of salt. I also added some more of the season blend my sister gave me for Christmas.
Once it is all mixed together, cook it on the stove for around 3-5 minutes while stirring fairly frequently. Then put it in a baking dish and squeeze about half a lemon over it. The lemon juice will give it a more bright flavor. But if you have issues with citrus you can totally leave that step out.
Then stick it in the oven for around 30 minutes. You want to give it a good stir about halfway through. And I waited until I had 30 minutes left on the chicken before putting it into the oven so it would be ready at the same time.
At this point, you are done except for clean up and eating. When the meat and cauliflower “rice” are done, you are ready to plate and enjoy!
Crispy Baked Chicken Thighs
You Will Need:
- 2-4 chicken thighs with the bone in and skin on
- Salt and pepper
- Seasonings of your choice (I recommend rosemary, thyme, and sage)
You May Want to Use:
- Parchment paper because the chicken will not stick to it
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken. If you wish, you can add any seasonings of your choice to the non-skin side.
- Place it in the oven for 90 minutes.
Mixed Veggie Cauliflower Rice
You Will Need:
- 1/2 head of cauliflower
- 1-2 carrots, diced
- 1 sweet potato, diced
- 1/2 onion, diced or cut into strips
- 1-2 collard green leaves or any green vegetable of choice
- 2 garlic cloves
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1 TBS coconut oil
You May Want to Use:
- A seasoning blend of your choice
- A food processor to get the “rice” texture
- Roughly chop 1/2 head of cauliflower. Put it in your food processor and pulse it until the texture resembles rice. Set it aside. If you do not have a food processor, you will have a harder time getting the “rice” texture but can still make this dish. Just dice it finely.
- Saute the onions in 1 TBS of coconut oil until they are translucent.
- Add in the diced carrots and sweet potato. Cook until tender.
- Add in the chopped collard greens and garlic. Stir to combine and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Mix in the cauliflower “rice” and stir well. You can add salt and/or any seasoning blends you like.
- Put the “rice” mixture into a baking dish and add the lemon juice if you chose. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, stirring midway through.
I hope you enjoy the recipe! Let me know how your crispy chicken and cauliflower rice turn out.
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